Venues across Denver are doing away with mask and vaccine requirements. Here’s what some had to say about the changes.

“We will continue to monitor the recommendations. But we’re hoping we’re entering that next chapter where our audiences feel comfortable and ready to reengage.”
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The Denver Performing Arts Complex, Sept. 20, 2017. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

This week, The Denver Performing Arts Complex and its resident companies announced that starting this month, they will faze out proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test requirements for patrons. Masks will also be optional.

The new rule applies to the Denver Center for the Performing Arts (DCPA), Colorado Ballet, the Colorado Symphony and Opera Colorado, which last fall issued a joint policy requiring masks and vaccinations at all Arts Complex shows. Each company now plans to drop those requirements at different times in March, depending on when they have a break in programming -- though some individual tours and productions may have their own requirements.

"It has not escaped our attention that one day, two years following the shuttering of our venues, we were able to lift and ease that policy," said Suzanne Yoe, the DCPA's Director of Communications & Cultural Affairs. "Two years to be away from the stage and to have such restrictions in place was a very long time. And so it almost felt like a bit of a celebration to enter our next chapter.

"We will continue to monitor the recommendations. But we're hoping we're entering that next chapter where our audiences feel comfortable and ready to reengage," Yoe said. "And we're certainly seeing that in our ticket sales, and people are ready to adapt and enjoy live theatre."

As COVID cases have declined in recent weeks in Colorado, venues across Denver have responded by relaxing their health restrictions. 

AEG Presents, the group that produces shows at venues like 1STBANK Center, Bluebird Theater, Ogden Theatre and Gothic Theatre, has already lifted its vaccine requirement. So has CoClubs, the group behind venues like The Church Nightclub, Club Vinyl, Bar Standard and Milk Bar. And just last week, Ball Arena and Paramount Theater announced they would drop their mask, vaccine and testing requirements. Other venues, like Meow Wolf and the MCA, both of which currently require guests to provide proof of vaccination at events but not for general admission, are in the process of reevaluating their health policies.

Some venue operators told Denverite their decision was a response to changing recommendations from local, state and federal health organizations. From a business perspective, there are also some benefits to cutting health requirements. Relaxing health policies can mean a faster, more efficient check-in process, and relieve front-of-house staff from policing patrons.

"In a time when hiring and staff retention has been problematic across the nation, sometimes it was difficult to find actual people to help facilitate that," Yoe said.

Still, a few venues are not yet ready to make the change. 

Su Teatro currently requires guests to show proof of vaccination, and to wear masks during shows. Program Coordinator Molly Gallegos says the community theatre group revisits its health policy every week. They've been erring on the side of caution, Gallegos said, because their community is made up of a lot of elders who, along with immunocompromised individuals, are more susceptible to serious illness, as well as young children who can't get vaccinated.

"We are a community theater, and we take that very seriously," Gallegos said. "The last thing we would want is for there to be an outbreak at one of our shows, because then not only do we have to close the show, but we're exposing our community. And it's hit the Latino community so hard already. "

A report by the CDC released in 2020 showed that COVID has disproportionately impacted the Latino community in Denver.

"Our focus is our community. And so we were going to do what it takes to keep them safe," Gallegos said.

She said the Su Teatro team is optimistic that COVID will eventually cease to be a threat. Until then, they are approaching their decision about health requirements on an event-by-event basis.

"I don't really know what our baseline is - like, what is the lowest number of cases that we feel comfortable with," Gallegos said. "I think it's just, how is it going as we were relaxing? Is this still a battle we want to fight? It's hard work, going through and making sure people are keeping their masks on."

Curious Theatre Company currently requires vaccines and masks, and plans to maintain that policy at least until the end of its current production, REFUGE, in early April.

"We feel like there's been so much messaging going out with all the different organizations," said Curious Theatre's Business Director Jeannene Bragg. "We've really been telling our patrons, 'Please bring your proof of vaccination, please bring your mask.' It just feels like it would be very hard to change that mid-show."

She says the company will reevaluate its policy ahead of Curious's next show, which opens in late April. Unless the COVID situation worsens before then, Bragg said, Curious will most likely drop its vaccine requirement, and maybe even their mask requirement.

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